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Neither Reluctant nor Aggressive Legalism: East Asian Countries under the World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Mechanism


  • This work was supported by a research grant from Kyung Hee University (#20100632). An earlier version of this article was presented at the 70th Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA, 12–15 April 2012, Chicago, IL). The author thanks William Phelan, other participants in the conference, as well as the anonymous readers at Pacific Focus for their helpful comments. This work is also facilitated by an appointment as a visiting scholar at the School of International Relations (SIR), University of Southern California (USC) in 2012. The author is grateful to SIR USC and John Odell for their kind invitation.


This article explores the distinctive features of East Asian countries' involvement in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute-settlement mechanism (DSM). Existing studies are divided into two opposing groups according to what they argue. The “passive legalism” argument emphasizes the reluctant attitude of East Asian countries, and tends to underestimate their involvement in the WTO DSM. On the other hand, the “aggressive legalism” argument highlights the drastic shift in East Asian countries' behavior from passive avoidance to aggressive utilization of the WTO DSM, and tends to overestimate East Asian countries' status in the system. Analyzing WTO dispute data, this article criticizes the limitations of both arguments and suggests responsive legalism or adaptive legalism as a more accurate concept for describing East Asian countries' legal attitude and behavior under the WTO DSM.